Wuhan virus: No ban on travellers from China at the moment, as Govt cautions against overreacting

Wuhan virus: No ban on travellers from China at the moment, as Govt cautions against overreacting
Wuhan virus: No ban on travellers from China at the moment, as Govt cautions against overreacting

Hello and welcome to the details of Wuhan virus: No ban on travellers from China at the moment, as Govt cautions against overreacting and now with the details

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Temperature screening will be conducted for passengers on all incoming flights, and not just those arriving from China and other affected countries. — TODAY file pic

SINGAPORE, Jan 27 — Cautioning against overreaction and xenophobia, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said today that a complete ban on travellers from China due to the Wuhan coronavirus is not necessary at the moment.

Still, he did not rule out the option, adding that the Government is doing “everything it can” to protect Singaporeans in the country.

“But this does not mean overreacting, or worse turning xenophobic,” said Wong at a ministerial press conference. “We must be proactive and rational in our response and base our actions on the available evidence and data.”

So far, there are four confirmed cases in Singapore. Out of the 92 total suspected cases so far, 42 are waiting for their test results, and 46 have already been tested negative.

The authorities have also identified 115 close contacts. Of these, 86 are still in Singapore, 66 of whom have been contacted and are being quarantined or isolated. Efforts are still ongoing to contact the remaining 20 people.

There is no community spread of the virus detected so far, said Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, deputy director of medical services at the health ministry. The cases detected in Singapore were either imported from overseas, or due to close contact to infected persons.

Read also: Wuhan virus: Some workers, students returning to Singapore from China will have to take mandated 14-day leave of absence

Wong said it is important that the Government is able to “adjust and recalibrate” its response to the mounting health crisis and the rapidly evolving situation around the virus outbreak in China.

Yesterday, a top Chinese health official had warned that the spread of the virus is accelerating rapidly; it has already spread to more than 2,700 people and killed at least 80.

Ramping up border checks

Among the range of new measures announced today, Wong said that the authorities will be ramping up border checks at air checkpoints. This includes temperature screening for all incoming flights, and not just those arriving from China and other affected countries.

More attention will also be paid to flights from China, with medical teams stationed at aerobridges to visually identify travellers who appear unwell.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority will be checking on passengers who have passports issued in the Hubei province. Officers will pull these travellers aside to ensure they are screened and to log their contact information before they travel around Singapore, said Wong.

When a reporter asked about a petition in Malaysia calling for a ban on Chinese travellers from entering the country, Wong said Singapore also has such a petition, which has been signed by more than 46,000 people.

Banning travellers from Hubei or China is not necessary at this moment, he said.

“We know these sentiments may emerge and that is why we want to reach out and assure Singaporeans that we have a robust system, that we will continue to monitor the situation,” he said, reiterating that there are already outbound restrictions placed on Chinese travellers.

Read also: China death toll spikes to 81, over 2,700 cases confirmed

Several cities in Hubei have been placed on lockdown by the Chinese authorities, and several commercial airlines have cancelled flights out of Wuhan in view of the crisis.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who was also at the press conference, added: “Imagine that at the height of Sars other countries (decide) to get Singaporeans out of the country.

“We will become a target as well and can be hit hard. Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you.”

Measures for organisations and workers

It was announced today that some workers and students returning to Singapore from China from tomorrow will have to take a 14-day leave of absence.

This will be mandated for all Ministry of Education (MOE) schools, which include MOE kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, special education schools, junior colleges and the Millennia Institute, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

The mandatory leave of absence will also apply to staff in public and private healthcare institutions who have travelled to China recently.

For all other organisations, there is a need for stepped-up precautionary measures for staff who are returning from China in the past two weeks, said the inter-ministerial taskforce in charge of the Wuhan virus situation in Singapore.

Firms are advised to collect health and travel declarations from their staff and to monitor their well-being and health upon their return, and the staff should also conduct self-health monitoring and temperature checks twice a day for two weeks after they come back to Singapore.

Employers may also adopt additional precautionary measures if they choose to do so, including the 14-day leave of absence period for employees who have close contact and sustained interactions with vulnerable populations.

Government ready to help affected businesses, workers

Meanwhile, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing cautioned about the potential impact of the Wuhan virus on certain sectors such as tourism, retail, hospitality, air transport and F&B. These are of “immediate concern”, he said.

“There will certainly be an impact on our economy, business and consumer confidence this year, especially as the situation is expected to persist for some time,” said Chan, later stating that it is still too early to pre-judge how long the Wuhan coronavirus situation will last.

He said that economic agencies such as the Singapore Tourism Board have been working with businesses, trade associations and chambers, as well as with the manpower ministry and the National Trades Union Congress to support affected workers.

Likening the support measures to how Singapore acted during the severe acute respiratory syndrome crisis in 2003, Chan said the Government is ready to unleash potential measures to aid businesses during this period, such as through property tax rebates, reducing foreign worker levies for businesses, and further easing working capital restrictions.

Said Chan: “We are ready to step up the measures this is one of those occasions in which our prudent Budgets have given us the depth of resources to deal with contingencies.” — TODAY

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